The Strength of Christian Spirituality in the Face of Suffering caused by HIV and AIDS

This workshop was prepared by the Faith and Witness Commission of The Canadian Council of Churches and presented at the Ecumenical Pre-Conference to the International AIDS Conference, held in Toronto, 10 and 11 August 2006.

The workshop brought together pastoral and theological reflections from two continents.

Two speakers presented a more pastoral approach to this topic, while a third gave a theological reflection drawing on their presentations and his own experience. A fourth speaker joined the panel for the question period.

The first speaker, the Rev. Philip Weaver, described his work in Casey House, a facility in Toronto for people living with HIV/AIDS. He spoke of the development of his “compassionate passion”, fueled by the un-Christian treatment of his wife’s uncle, who died of AIDS. Philip felt strongly that he should help rather than condemn such people, and has built his life round helping people with AIDS in Toronto and beyond. His Scriptural reflection focused on John 9, the story of the man born blind.

The second speaker, the Rev. Rosemary Nsofwa Molumo, the Community Development Secretary for the United Church of Zambia, spoke of her church’s new approach to social issues, including HIV/AIDS. When they go to speak with people, even from village to village, there are cultural and linguistic difficulties. Globalization is not a helpful concept here: rather, the focus is on working with one person at a time, one village at a time. Education is the main focus, as was confirmed by her co-worker, Joy M. Lubinga, coordinator of the Circle of Hope of the United Church of Zambia, who participated at question time out of her own experience of being HIV-positive. Click here for full text of Rosemary’s presentation.

The third speaker, Dr. Gilles Mongeau, sj, a systematic theologian who also has a long-term ministry to people living with HIV/AIDS in Toronto, reflected on the first two talks and offered his own theological reflection. He named the power of the Cross as a positive force in our lives. Gilles also suggested a return to the “common tradition”, a return to the views of the Middle Ages, where there was no division between head and heart, and where social, political and religious views were all held together. He saw this as a way of uniting our different approaches to the different issues raised by HIV/AIDS. Click here for full text of Gilles’ presentation.

Lively, informative and challenging open periods followed the workshop, which was presented twice during the conference and was filled to capacity each time.

The session was introduced and led in prayer by Rev. Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, of the Anglican Church of Canada, on behalf of the Faith and Witness Commission.

Dr. Moira McQueen moderated the workshop and prepared this introduction.

On behalf of the Commission, Maj. Kester Trim (Salvation Army), Dr. Gail Allan (United Church of Canada) and Dr. Mary Marrocco planned and coordinated this workshop, assisted by Dr. McQueen.

The Commission and the planning committee extend their deep appreciation to all who assisted in the preparation and presentation of this workshop. Both presentations were moving and informative, and contributed to the ongoing theological reflection on suffering and hope in face of HIV/AIDS.

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